Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.
There was this moment in the barn last night when my memory took a photograph. To see it properly in your own mind you need to picture the small space of my red barn (about the size of a generous one-car garage). Since the back end was boarded off years ago for cock fighting tournaments, I am currently only using the downstairs front third of the small building. You walk into this scrappy two-story abode and you are met by a loft ladder just to the left. I'm not using the loft, but I like this ladder. It's sturdy. Stacked next to it are about twenty bales of green second-cut hay for the animals. The hay stack was once a small mountain but now it's more of a wall-hugging Jenga. Chickens (about seven refugees) perch and glare from the bale ends and I can just see them in the light from the pig pen. This hay/chicken structure takes up the whole left side of the available space.
About six feet from the door, directly in front of me, is the farm trike, protected from the elements near the 10 rabbit hutches that line the main wall. Last spring these were all full, and now only two rabbits remain: one hearty meat doe that was born here in late April, and my Angora Buck, Benjamin. I had come into the barn to bring them water, and this has become an ordeal tonight since I had moments before watched the Doe's bottle crack in half in the sink from the cold. So we were down to one bottle shared until I could buy a second in the morning. (Leaving bowls out was pointless. They freeze in ten minutes and freeze the noses of the rabbits too.)
Pig has the rest of the space, and it's fairly generous. She probably takes up 50 square feet of thick hay piles, feed pans, and red water bucket. I still turn on the heat lamp for her when I am home, and she lies under it like a diva. On her tummy with her dainty front hooves splayed on the hay and her back legs crossed like a 1930s cigarette model on a beachside billboard. She sees me right next to the pen near the rabbits and starts grunting and nibbling my jeans. I reach behind me to scratch her ears and she closes her eyes. She's so big right now she doesn't even resemble the little gilt I brought back in a dog crate. She's easily 150 pounds, maybe more, and her back arches like the pigs on the old-fashioned meat-cut charts. She looks like, well, like a pig. I made a pig in this barn.
So there I was, living in a photograph for a few moments. I was holding a water bottle for a thirsty rabbit in my left hand, scratching a pig's ear behind me with my right, and surrounded on all sides by leering chickens in various cathedral-heights of hay. The only light was the golden glow of Pig's lamp and it cast dramatic shadows on the small space. It was beautiful. Not only in the light and animals, but in the intention. I was breathing deep and happy in a space that just a year ago was storage for large, plastic, outdoor Christmas decorations and a lawn mower—now it was feeding me. This barn, hell, the front section of this barn housed dozens of rabbits, countless eggs, a mountain of lamb and wool producing hay, a freezer-full of pork, and happy little meat birds. I never kept score of exactly how many pounds of hay, dozens of eggs, or rabbit and chicken dinners came out of the space, but it was substantial. Substantial for a chick with a desk job, at least.
A hundred square feet of wholesomeness on a winter night. A hundred square feet of recipes and stories, hay trips and tragedies, of future stories too. It's a good barn, a useful space. And even in my hay and shit-caked Carhartts, I shine in it.
Jenna Woginrich is the author of Chick Days: An Absolute Beginner's Guide to Raising Chickens from Hatching to Laying, from Storey Publishing. Visit her blog at Cold Antler Farm.
PHOTO: Jenna Woginrich, Cold Antler Farm